You’d think that it would be so easy: as a wink and a nod at the audience for whom he’s performing, Prince does a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” at Coachella, a bunch of cell-phone videos gets put up on YouTube, and everybody marvels — for the eighty zillionth time — at what a versatile mother-fracker Prince is.
And, oh yeah, what a great song “Creep” remains. Sure, it would have been cooler had Prince covered “Karma Police” or “Everything In Its Right Place,” (especially if Prince had changed the opening line to “Yesterday I woke up, you were sucking my lemon”), but, all things considered, “Creep” was good enough, and the whole thing just becomes part of the legend of both artists.
You’d think. But, as it turns out, things are a bit more complicated. Which since it’s Prince and Radiohead, makes a lot of sense, since inherent in the greatness of each artist is more than a touch of madness.
So here’s what happened: Prince, his royal paranoidness, instantly had YouTube take the videos down, claiming copyright violation.
But Thom Yorke of Radiohead, gods bless his not-exactly-sane soul, had a different reaction:
In a recent interview, Thom Yorke said he heard about Prince’s performance from a text message and thought it was “hilarious.” Yorke laughed when his bandmate, guitarist Ed O’Brien, said the blocking had prevented him from seeing Prince’s version of their song.
“Really? He’s blocked it?” asked Yorke, who figured it was their song to block or not. “Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment.”
Yorke added: “Well, tell him to unblock it. It’s our … song.”
One one level, Prince obviously gets it: he is savvy enough to be way ahead of the curve when it came to using the internet to distribute his music, and he’s also no stranger to the free distribution model either, having given away his (actually pretty good to my like-and-respect-him-more-than-love-him ears) Planet Earth album in a Brit newspaper in order to goose a tour.
So he’s no stranger to all of the smart ways to use the digital world to get his music out there. And yet, he somehow finds damage in fan-posted videos on YouTube.
It’s obviously all about c-o-n control with Prince, which is why he’s done all of that batshit crazy stuff like change his name to that symbol and scrawl “slave” on his face. In his mind, it’s very black-and-white: either he controls it, or he doesn’t. The problem is that this is one of those situations where a smarter worldview might not be black-and-white, but rather a shade of, er, purple.
Yes, YouTube will make advertising money from his image on their site, and no, they aren’t likely to share any of that revenue with him, so — and I’m totally guessing here — he probably has the right, despite the fact that it isn’t his song. Because it is his performance.
But just because he has the right doesn’t mean that he is right. The people who posted the videos aren’t evil soulless corporations in league with YouTube to take down Prince’s music empire. They’re just fans using YouTube as a distribution mechanism to let other fans see what they thought was a cool little bit of music history.
And in this case, “other fans” include one of the guys who wrote the song!
So this is what I think that Radiohead should do, if Prince ignores them (which he probably will): self-released Prince cover versions. For their current tour, they should learn “When U Were Mine,” or “P Control” or, especially “The Cross,” which has been ripe for a great cover for nearly two decades.
Actually, I’m really not sure exactly how this gets Prince back for having the video taken down, but ever since I heard about Prince covering “Creep,” I’ve thought that it would be cool if Radiohead took a page from the Nick Lowe (who released an EP called Bowi after David Bowie released Low) playbook and cover “The Cross” as a response.
Now, if we could just get Prince down from the one he’s on . . .